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Juris Kulakovs

(20.05.1958 - 2024 )

"Since I am interested in both of these genres, it would be correct to say that at the same time I am – an eccentric (rock) academic musician, as well as an academic rock musician. Since the time that I studied at the Mediņš College of Music, I have been obsessed with symphonic rock ideas: in academic music I search for the features of rock music, in turn in rock music I was missing the symphonic. It is wonderful that I have had the opportunity to realize both of these tendencies and work in both fields."


Juris Kulakovs is one of the rare composers who are actively involved in both rock music and in the academic field. 
Juris Kulakovs was born on May 20th, 1958, in Līvāni. He finished the 1st High School of Līvāni and the Children’s Music School (1975) were he learned to play the accordion and, as an elective, he learned to play the trumpet. After that he specialized in the accordion at the Jāzeps Mediņš College of Music (1979). At the Latvian State Conservatory, he graduated the wind and popular orchestra director and conductor class (1984, Raimonds Pauls and Alnis Zaķis, instructors) and studied composition with Pēteris Plakidis (1985–1990).

He is a multi-instrumentalist, and he is self-taught on the great majority of musical instruments that he plays. As of 1978, he has been playing in the ensemble Menuets. At the end of the 70s, he formed the instrumental jazz-rock group Arka. In 1981, he founded the rock group Pērkons, who became of the most beloved groups of the youth, and one of the most loathed groups by the Soviet cultural bureaucracy. Characterising the rock music work of Juris Kulakovs, Klāss Vāvere wrote: "In his heart he is always a convincing showman. He persistently balances his songs and the performance manner of Pērkons between theatrical extroversion, socially grotesque irony, and a true musical experience" (Liesma, 1989, No. 12). Foretelling the Reawakening Period in Latvia, a nationalistic breeze could be felt in the work of Pērkons. As opposed to the majority of Latvian groups, Pērkons’ lyrics were not written by the band, but mainly were written by respected contemporary progressive poets. Pērkons was also known for unusually loud music for Soviet times, noisy behaviour, and were one of the first groups in Latvia that used pyrotechnics. Young listeners at Pērkons’ concerts felt free, rose to their feet, and openly expressed their emotions. These facts were the reason that militiamen stood guard while the band was performing, Juris Kulakovs was repressed – in the Ministry of Culture the composer was unable to find work, and it was even suggested to him that he emigrate from Latvia. Twice (in 1983 and 1985) Pērkons was prohibited from playing. Even until 1987, the group played underground. The first, self-released Pērkons albums came in 1983, Mākslas darbi (Works of Art) (1981) and Zibens pa dibenu (Lightning to the Behind) (1982) – the songs were recorded on cassette tapes and copied innumerable times, achieving an enormous circulation. The album Vēl ir laiks (There is Still Time) was released in Germany (1984, Cultural Rescue Society). Klusā daba ar perspektīvu (Still Life With Perspective) (1985) and Labu vakar (Good Evening) (1987) were released and sold out in the United States (1989, the American Latvian Youth Association), and Latviskā virtuve (Latvian Kitchen) was released in France (1991, Pērkons self-release).

As a keyboardist, Juris Kulakovs took part in the singer Ieva Akuratere’s and actor Edgars Liepiņš’s solo programs, being involved in many different rock music projects (the Kristaps Grasis group, and others). He performs as a piano accompanist and forms popular musical arrangements, and works with the three tenors Miervaldis Jenčs, Nauris Puntulis, and Guntars Ruņģis. He also works as a producer of recordings. With the group Menuets he has given concerts in Poland, the German Democratic Republic (1979), and with Pērkons in the United States, Canada, France, Sweden (1989-1998), with Ieva Akuratere in France (1994), with Edgars Liepiņš in Australia (1995), with the Three Tenors in the United States (2002).

The composer has played synthesizers and electric organ at symphonic music concerts, has worked together with many notable conductors, including Vassily Sinaisky, Aleksandrs Viļumanis, and Normunds Šnē. He conducted the recording of the musical Latvijas karalis (King of Latvia) at Latvian Radio, the recording of the album The Beatles. Neaizmirstamo melodiju simfonija (The Beatles. Unforgettable Melody Symphony), and the performance of the comical cantata Artūrs – jūrasbraucējs (Artūrs – Seafarer). He performed the role of Eduards Veidenbaums in the television film ...Bet vilciens brauc (...But the Train is Leaving) (director Igors Meirāns). Doubling the actor Jānis Kaijaks, he played the role of the African-American pianist in the William Saroyan play Tavas dzīves laiks (The Time of Your Life) (director Juris Rijnieks, National Theatre).

In the history of Latvian music, Juris Kulakovs is the first composer, to whose fountain pen belong a passion (Mateja pasija [St. Matthew’s Passion]) and a video opera (Debešķīgā nepieciešamība [Heavenly Necessity]). He received an awarded for best musical performance in dramatic theatre in the 2001/2002 season (the musical Mazais princis [The Little Prince]) and was recognized as the best composer of the 2002/2003 season at the Liepāja Theatre. As of 2002, Juris Kulakovs is a member of the Latvian Composer’s Union.

Mārīte Dombrovska © LMIC